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Friday, Dec 8, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

COLUMN | "How was your break?"

Better ways to ask and answer this pesky question

Two students converse on Samford Lawn on Sept. 27, 2022
Two students converse on Samford Lawn on Sept. 27, 2022

By now, most of us have probably forgotten the dreariness of college friend goodbyes and sunk into the habit of poor sleep schedules and hanging out with family and random high school friends. With the start of spring semester looming overhead, the week of “How was your break?” is also encroaching. 

Maybe you had a fantastic break full of busyness and vacations. Maybe you worked. Maybe you overslept. Maybe you did a mixture of all those things. No matter what though, you will probably be asked, “How was your break?” about a million times once you set foot back on campus. 

For shallow, southern small talk or for catching up with friends, you should have at least an idea of what you’ll say. It might require some processing and preparation, but this over-asked question doesn’t have to be meaningless and trite. 

Part of this is changing the way you ask the question. It’s annoying because it’s repetitive and superficial. Depending on who you’re with, you can make it as deep or shallow as needed. 

Here are some suggestions: 

  • “Did you spend time with family or friends over the break? How was it?” 
  • “What are three words you would use to describe your break?” 
  • “What was a highlight of your break?” 
  • “Did you do anything exciting for the holidays?” 
  • “What did you learn or struggle with over the break?” 

You could also shift the focus to being back in Auburn: 

  • “Are you glad to be back?”
  • “How are you feeling about this semester? Is it busy or chill?”
  • “Did you have time to process last semester?” 
  • “Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?” 
  • “What are you most excited about?” 

People will be more inclined to give a real answer when the question seems genuine. It doesn’t have to be a multi-hour conversation, but it is always nice to feel sought out. 

Leaving one’s hometown and being in the thick of winter can be hard on people and their mental health. Spending two minutes talking is a small way to have an impact. Even if you forget their answer by the end of the day, asking a genuine question might be the most positive social interaction someone receives all day. 

The question is only half the battle though. Your answer can be meaningful as well. There is a difference between being a chatterbox and being conversational. That boundary is marked by how much of the conversation is engaging and how much is about yourself. 

You can talk about your experiences in a way that leaves the conversation open for other people to contribute. Sometimes talking about your break will make people comfortable talking about theirs as well. 

Here are some ideas: 

  • “I got a lot of downtime over break, which was really good for me because I tend to make myself too busy at school.”
  • “I really missed being at school and being in my routine because being home can be difficult for me.” 
  • “I got to go on vacation, and it was super cool to keep up that family tradition.” 
  • “I visited a friend I haven’t seen in a while, and it was really good for me.”
  • “I was super bored, so I’m really glad to be back with my people.”

Even if you are the most antisocial person on the planet, it’s important to process your experiences and emotions. Maybe you can just ask yourself how your break went. Looking back can make us more grateful, help us be present and allow us to see what we need to change. 

You don't have to give the traditional, one-syllable answer of fine or good. You don’t have to slog through surface-level conversation. The question doesn’t have to forever be mundane. 

It just takes a little thought. So before you get bombarded with classes, responsibilities, relationships and this pesky question, think of a way to ask or answer it in a way that actually matters to you.

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The opinions expressed in columns and letters represent the views and opinions of their individual authors. 

These opinions do not necessarily reflect the Auburn University student body, faculty, administration or Board of Trustees. 

Sami Grace Donnelly | Opinion Editor

Sami Grace Donnelly, junior in English literature, is the Opinion Editor at The Auburn Plainsman.


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